Monday, June 22, 2015

A Deadly Adoption (Gary Sanchez Productions, Marvista Entertainment, National Picture Show Entertainment, Lifetime, 2015)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was A Deadly Adoption, a Lifetime movie which had its “world premiere” on Saturday and which was a completely typical Lifetime movie, a sort of compendium of Lifetime’s Greatest Hits, and remarkable only in that somehow the producers of this film (all nine of them) got Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig to star in it. Now Will Ferrell may not be as mega-popular now as he was a decade ago, but he’s still a name to conjure with on the big screen, and Kristen Wiig is a frequent co-star of his in movies like Anchorman 2, The Spoils of Babylon and Welcome to Me (and they met while they were both in the cast of Saturday Night Live — a stint on SNL seems as de rigueur for an aspiring comic now as a shot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson once did), and much of the debate about this project on line centers around whether Ferrell and Wiig intended to take it seriously. Some of the “Trivia” posts about it say Ferrell, Wiig, director Rachel Goldenberg and writer Andrew Steele intended this as a “secret” project and either didn’t want it released at all or did it only as a parody of Lifetime as a genre. Whatever its intentions, what we actually get is an ultra-“serious” Lifetime film which begins with a scene in the lakefront home of writer Robert Benson (Will Ferrell) — he concocts financial self-help books and has become a star within the genre — and his wife Sarah (Kristen Wiig). They’re having a picnic with a few friends and Sarah, though six months pregnant with their second child, insists on going for a boat ride alone — only the dock, which Robert has told his friends was unsafe and he was planning to have repaired, collapses before she can get into the boat and she nearly drowns. She’s saved, but her unborn baby dies and a complication in the surgery that saved her life makes it impossible for her to have children again. In the meantime Robert and Sarah obsess over the one child they do have, daughter Sully (Alyvia Alyn Lind) — a first name that sounds jarring through the entire movie (not Sally, Sully — the only real person I’ve ever heard of with the first name “Sully” was Kay Kyser band singer Sully Mason, and he was a guy), and decide to go to an adoption agency to find her a brother to replace the one that died in the accident while he was still in Sarah’s womb. An added complication is that Sully is a heavy-duty diabetic for whom the merest bite of normal candy is life-threatening (and, not surprisingly, trying to keep a kid whose age is still in single digits from eating candy is a major parenting challenge for the Bensons).

They get a visit from Bridget Wilson (Jessica Lowndes), who’s willing to put up her unborn baby boy for adoption, and the Bensons have her move in with them for the duration of her pregnancy — only we get a typical Lifetime shot of Bridget smirking at Robert and looking at him with undisguised lust, indicating that like quite a few Lifetime anti-heroines before her she intends to do away with Sarah and take her place as Robert’s spouse. Later we get another typical Lifetime scene in which we see Bridget being accosted on the street by a sleazy-looking guy in a pickup truck; the sleazy guy turns out to be Dwayne Tisdale (Jake Weary, who since he’s playing a villain is naturally the hottest-looking male in the film!), and he and Bridget are in some kind of scam to make money off the Bensons. Still later we get a scene in which Sully stumbles upon Bridget in the shower and notices Bridget is wearing a prosthetic device over her chest to make her look pregnant when she really isn’t — and though Bridget gives her the preposterous explanation that she’s just wearing it to look more visibly pregnant than she is, we get it immediately. “Oh,” I said to myself at this point, “instead of doing the clichéd gimmick that she’s really pregnant and Robert is the biological father, they’re doing the clichéd gimmick that she’s merely faking being pregnant.” I was only half-wrong in my initial assumption; Bridget — whose real name is Joni Weatherly and who impersonated the real Bridget to get into the Benson household (and presumably either she or Dwayne murdered the real one) — did have an affair, or at least a one-night stand, with Robert when he was on his last book tour, and though for Robert it was a meaningless quickie, Bridget immediately fell in love (or the crazed Lifetime simulacrum thereof) with him and determined to get him permanently.

Writer Steele has so carefully “planted” hints about Robert’s fears — he hasn’t wanted to go back into the lake again since his wife’s accident (though he’s continued to live there — one would have thought if he were so traumatized the first thing he would have done is sell the house and move to one nowhere near any large bodies of water) — that it’s a lead-pipe cinch that the finale will involve him having to dive in the water and use a boat to rescue Sully, who’s been kidnapped by Joni and Dwayne. That was Dwayne’s plan from the get-go — to take the girl and hold her for a $1 million ransom from the Bensons — though it got complicated by Joni’s demented affection for Robert and her determination to stay with him and displace Sarah in his affections. Dwayne is discovered by Charlie (Bryan Safi), who’s Gay (though he’s a typical movie Gay man in that he’s never actually shown having a romantic or sexual interest in another man) and works for Sarah in her business selling organic fruits and vegetables at local produce stands. (Why she needs this preposterous job when her husband is a multi-millionaire from his writing is never quite explained; even if she wanted to work in the field, surely he could have bought her a supermarket instead of leaving her standing on streetcorner stands!) There is a nice little scene in which Charlie calls the police to report Dwayne’s existence and his involvement with Joni a.k.a. Bridget — and Bryan Safi deftly manipulates his voice to show that, even though he knows Dwayne is a dangerous criminal, he’s also got the hots for him — but later, when Charlie traces Dwayne and Joni to their hideouts in the woods near the lake, Dwayne punches him out and then kills him.

Eventually it ends with Joni invading the Bensons’ home, taking Sully, shooting Robert and locking Sarah in the garage with the motor of her car running so she’ll die of carbon monoxide poisoning and it will look like she committed suicide — and for good measure she shoots Dwayne as well, though she’s such an incompetent murderess all three people she tries to kill are still alive at the fade-out and Dwayne is traced by the police and arrested. Robert has to dive into the river and start an outboard motorboat to escape from Joni, who’s firing a gun at both him and Sully, only Joni’s murderous assault is stopped by … Sarah, who after Robert rescued her from their garage but before he set out after their kidnapped daughter, grabbed the gun Sarah had left behind after she (non-fatally) shot Robert at home and uses it to take Joni out before she can do their family any more harm. A Deadly Adoption — one wonders why it wasn’t called The Perfect Adoption, unless Christine Conradt owns the rights to the “Perfect … ” series title — is a virtual compendium of Lifetime clichés, including the kidnapping of a diabetic kid (who was done considerably better in 12 Hours to Live), and one can readily understand the conviction of writers like Drew McWeeny at ( that Ferrell, Wiig, Goldenberg and Steele made this as a deliberate parody of the Lifetime movie genre — but I think they were totally serious about it. I wondered if Will Ferrell’s film career has been tanking badly enough he would need to do a Lifetime movie, but his page says otherwise; it says he’s currently filming Daddy’s Home and Zoolander 2, has finished a film called Zeroville that’s already in post-production, and is in pre-production on three other projects: Tom’s Dad, The House and Russ and Roger Go Beyond (in which he’s playing 1960’s sexploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer in a film about the making of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls).